Mike was troubled. About midway through an evangelistic series, three young girls who had been attending regularly approached him, saying, "We have been looking into the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but just yesterday we talked with our pastor. We wanted to inform you tonight that we are not coming back. Here are the magazines and books you have given us."
As Mike drove home from the evangelistic meeting that evening, his thoughts were in a whirl. What could he do? Should he visit the girls? Should he call them? Their decision seemed so final. Deeply concerned, he drove to the church. It was 10:00 in the evening. He opened the door and sat down in the darkness of the sanctuary. Dropping to his knees, a great burden flowed from him for these three girls. As he prayed, earnestly pleading with God for their souls, a peace came over him. He did not know for certain how God was going to work, but he knew his prayer was answered. It was after midnight when he got back into the car and drove home.
Two days later, on Sabbath, as Mike was greeting visitors in the church foyer, he notice these three girls walking cautiously up the steps. In utter amazement he greeted them. "Girls! What are you doing here?"
Quickly they responded, "We just wanted to come and visit your church. Is it O.K.?"
For the next few weeks Mike watched as God kept impressing the girls to come back to the evangelistic meetings. Soon they were open to his Bible studies. Later, as they stood in the baptismal pool at the New Haven, Connecticut, Adventist Church, he knew once again that the power of effective soul-winning comes on our knees, pleading with God for the salvation of souls.
Recently on the "It Is Written" television program, I interviewed Larry Dorsey, the former chief of the medical staff of the Dallas General Hospital. Dr. Dorsey has extensively studied the role of intercessory prayer in healing. After reviewing 130 medical studies of patients recovering from a life-threatening disease in the last 25 years, Dr. Dorsey has concluded that scientifically there is a dramatic difference when people are prayed for. If this is true in the physical realm of healing, think of how much truer it is in the realm of spiritual healing conversion.
Prayer + Faith = Souls
There are two essential ingredients in soul winning. First John 5:14-16 lists them both: "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death."
Our passage reveals things about successful soul winning: the necessity of intercessory prayer, and the necessity of implicit faith.
"Prayer and faith will do what no power on earth can accomplish" (The Ministry of Healing, p. 509).
"It is a part of God's plan to grant us, in answer to the prayer of faith, that which He would not bestow did we not thus ask" (The Great Controversy, p. 525).
Winning a soul is not like repairing an automobile or making a cake in which there is a certain formula and anybody who follows it will be successful. No, each person is different, and although there are basic soulwinning principles which apply to every situation, we need the wisdom of God in applying them. Otherwise, minds will not be impressed. Lives will be left unchanged.
PRAYER EMPOWERED CHRIST
Scripture clearly reveals that Christ's power came from the secret place of prayer. He prayed in the wilderness of temptation when the adversary battled for His soul. He prayed the night before He selected His disciples. He prayed through the night before He delivered the nobleman's son from a demon. He prayed in Gethsemane before the cross.
Soul-winners seem sometimes to think they are too busy to pray. Jesus did not. "And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils. And all the city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him. And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed" (Mark 1:32-35).
With the setting sun the whole city came, clamoring for His attention. What evangelist has ever been busier? But busy nights were not allowed to interfere with praying mornings. There was power at night because there was prayer in the morning.
PRAYER DOES FOUR THINGS
Why is it necessary to pray for souls? Doesn't God already want to win them? Isn't He doing everything He can without our praying? There is a great deal about the science of prayer that the human mind cannot comprehend. This should not discourage us. Simply because we do not understand all about electricity does not keep us from employing the benefits of light, heat, and the electrical power. In the late 1800s almost nothing was known about Vitamin B, yet an individual eating whole wheat bread received as much benefit from Vitamin B then as we do now. The point is simply this: It is not necessary to know everything about something to benefit from it.
Although we will never fully understand the science of prayer, there are four reasons we should pray for souls:
1. Prayer enables God to speak to us about sins in our own lives which are a hindrance to successful soulwinning. The Israelites had just been defeated by the men from a tiny city called Ai. Joshua entered into earnest prayer over the situation, and God said, "Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies" (Joshua 7:10-12). God's power was limited because there was sin among His people. He used the prayer of Joshua as an opportunity to speak to him about sin.
Very often as you and I come to pray for others, Jesus impresses our own hearts with the need of a closer fellowship with Him. In the atmosphere of prayer, soul winning is the fulcrum by which Jesus pries sin out of our lives. We say, "Oh, Lord, I never saw myself that way before. If that is the way I really am, if my bitterness, my jealousy, my pride are standing between me and You, oh, Lord, take it away so You can effectively witness through me to win that soul." In prayer Jesus reveals to us attitudes that inhibit His working through us.
2. Prayer deepens our desire concerning the thing for which we are praying. One of the reasons Jesus does not immediately move into a life as we pray is to enable us to come in such close harmony with Him that we will work harder with Him for the salvation of that particular soul. The more we pray for someone's salvation, the more we desire it. The more we desire it, the more we will look for creative opportunities to reach that person.
3. Prayer puts us in touch with divine wisdom. The only One who is really wise enough to win souls is God. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God" (James 1:5). Isaiah 50:4, speaking prophetically of Jesus, says, "The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary." Only Jesus gives us the tongue of the learned. He reveals the right words to say to men and women. Without His wisdom we may have keys, but we do not know which key fits where. It is the wisdom of Jesus that chooses the right key to fit each particular heart and opens it to receive the treasures of the gospel.
4. Prayer enables God to work more powerfully than He could if we did not pray. Daniel 10 tells how the heavenly messenger explained to Daniel that a great battle had been going on over the mind of Cyrus. The good angels attempted to drive the evil angels back so that Cyrus could make the right decision. The evil angels attempted to destroy the good angels, to enshroud Cyrus in darkness. As Daniel prayed, this battle raged. Finally, Jesus came down, beat the evil angels back, and gave Cyrus an opportunity to make a clear and intelligent decision. Israel was allowed to go free. Daniel's intercessory prayer proved effective.
Isn't God doing everything He can to save a person before we pray? Yes. But when we pray as did Daniel, it enables God to do more than He could have done before. God has voluntarily chosen to limit Himself in the great controversy between good and evil. He has chosen not to violate human will. When one human mind prays for another it enables Him to work on minds more dramatically than He otherwise could.
This matter of praying for souls is an individual work. It is not simply that we quickly pray for 100 names on a pray list so something magic will happen. There are some forms of life for which multiple births are usual. An opossum, for instance, can give birth to a litter of a dozen or more. Not so with human beings. Occasionally we see twins born, and still more seldom, triplets or quadruplets. But most humans are born one at a time. And that's the way it is with soul winning. If you want to win souls, begin with one.
Notice the counsel that Job gives us in praying for souls: "O that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbor." This is our work, pleading before God for the specific needs of John or Joseph, Mary or Alice. "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you" (1 Sam. 12:23). Do you have a prayer list? Are there men and women that you are holding up before God in prayer? Soul-winning is God's work, not man's. Prayer opens our hearts and minds to be used as channels for the Holy Spirit's working.
PRAY IN GROUPS
In addition to praying alone for souls, notice the instruction Jesus gives us: "If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18: 19,20).
Ellen White adds: "Why do not two or three meet together and plead with God for the salvation of some special one, and then still another? " (Testimonies of the Church, Vol. 7, p. 21).
These little prayer bands provide the basis for successful evangelism. The work of conversion is not natural; it is supernatural. A salesman might be able to persuade a person to buy a new car. Advertising companies may entice an individual to purchase a new suit of clothing. A real estate broker might interest a person in an attractive new home. These sales people can get results by following certain techniques. They can sell their product. It might even be possible for a Christian minister to persuade a person to join the church. But only God can bring genuine conversion to the soul.
Successful evangelism must include a ministry of prayer.
Develop a prayer list of specific individuals. Seek God for those people each day, write down their names, petition heaven for their souls. If possible choose a prayer partner. Together bombard heaven with your prayers. God will answer. You will become a channel of His abundant blessings. The river of the Water of Life will be poured out through you to touch another life for the Kingdom of God.
The New Testament reveals that the evangelistic explosion throughout the book of Acts was the result of the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Since we are living in the days of earth's final harvest, it is essential for the success of any evangelistic campaign that each of us consecrate ourselves to God for service, are of one accord, and are filled with the Holy Spirit.
Without prayer spiritual renewal is impossible. As public evangelists unite with local congregations in an integrated, coordinated approach in winning souls for Christ, praying for the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit, God will give us unusual results. The Spirit will be poured out and souls will be won.
Mark Finley writes from Thousand Oaks, California, where he serves the church as director of It Is Written, an international evangelistic telecast program.